Those were huge numbers that Tim Tebow produced in his final game as quarterback at Florida, but they probably weren't big enough to launch him into the first round of the NFL Draft.
That's the opinion of scouts and GMs who study the guy, and while they like him -- and like him a lot -- they don't like him enough to give him a first-round grade.
|Tim Tebow's character and leadership abilities are some of his strongest qualities. (US Presswire)|
"You're going to have to change everything he does," said former coach Brian Billick, now a TV analyst. "He has a windup delivery. He carries the ball too low. And he needs to read progressions. He's a helluva player, but how do you make him a first-round pick when you have to change so much?"
It’s a good question and one asked over and over by scouts, player personnel directors and GMs. Yet while they dissect his mechanics, they rave about Tebow’s intangibles and are dazzled by his character, competitive drive and ability to motivate teammates. Most of all they rave about his success. Wherever he's been, Tebow has been a winner, with Florida 35-6 in his three seasons as a starter and the Gators winning a national championship during that span.
"Great," said one GM, "but Danny Wuerffel was a winner, too."
He's right. Like Tebow, Wuerffel won a zillion games. Like Tebow, Wuerffel quarterbacked a top-rated club. Like Tebow, he won a Heisman Trophy. And, like Tebow, he was pulled apart by pro scouts, with Wuerffel falling to the fourth round of the 1997 draft.
Tebow will not go that low. But he may not go a whole lot higher. After he shredded Cincinnati last week, the question I had was: Did he do enough to merit first-round consideration? And the answer was universal: Probably not.
"If you lined up 20 scouts right now," said one AFC player personnel director, "there would be 18 of them who would tell you he's not a first-rounder."
Of course, that means there might be two who would tell you he is. But I ran into one of Tebow's strongest supporters, a guy who followed his career since high school, and even he admitted that for the quarterback to make it into the first round something other than football, skills would have to be involved -- something like his ability to sell tickets or generate a buzz.
"So where do you have him rated?" I asked.
"Top of the second," he said.
That was higher than others, but at least it was close to where Tebow would like to be. Most guys I spoke to had him ranked anywhere from the bottom of the second to somewhere in the third round, with the complaint always the same: Poor mechanics.
"He's not as accurate as you'd like," said one scout, "and he carries the ball very low and behind him, which produces a slow release. But even with a strong release if you carry the ball like that, you're going to have guys who keep coming off the edge swatting at it, and that's an issue. Plus, he's going to have to work on his footwork.
"He doesn't have a strong arm, and while people talk about how well he runs, he's not what you'd call a candidate for the Wildcat because he's not a tailback -- he's a fullback who has power, is a straight-ahead runner and will hit you head-on, and you wonder how long he can last like that. So he has issues."
One issue he didn't mention is Tebow's failure to take the ball from under center. He operates out of the shotgun, and, yeah, maybe that's another concern. But I'm not so certain it's much of one. It was supposed to be a concern when Vince Young was eligible for the 2006 draft, but it didn't stop Tennessee from taking him third overall. And it didn't stop Young from having a productive NFL career.
It was supposed to be a concern with Kevin Kolb a year later, but it didn't stop the Philadelphia Eagles from making him their first draft pick. Though Kolb has played sparingly, he started twice this year in place of Donovan McNabb and both times threw for over 300 yards.
Kolb and Young worked with former quarterback and assistant coach Jerry Rhome prior to the draft, and both became so good at taking snaps from center that by late April it wasn't a problem.
Bad mechanics, however, are it takes time -- sometimes a lot of it -- to correct them. And it is bad mechanics that keep coming up in conversations about Tebow.
Some scouts tell me that even if he corrects his flaws, they're not sure he can approximate the quarterback he was in college. What they are certain of is that you can't afford to invest a first-round draft pick in someone who could take one or two seasons to straighten out.
"I love his intangibles and the type of kid he is," said one GM, "but he has a long delivery, and he probably doesn't know how to read defenses. He's inconsistent with his accuracy, and you have to question whether he can anticipate in the pocket. Plus, he never played under center. I'd have to put him on the board to see how smart he is, but I can't see him going in the first round. No way."
The argument in Tebow's favor, of course, is that the guy makes plays, knows how to win and is a charismatic leader. One scout told me he loved the touch he put on his passes. Another said he admired his instincts and ability to make something out of plays seemingly going nowhere.
"He has a little bit of that Doug Flutie magic," he said.
Others spoke to his character, with one scout saying: "He's genuine and doesn't have one phony bone in his body." All of that is in Tebow's favor, but it's hard for anyone who studies him to get past the makeover he must undergo once he graduates to the pros.
So while there is no question that Tebow helped himself with his monster game against Cincinnati, there is also no question that it's probably not enough to make much of a difference on draft day.
"If you're going to look at his last game," asked one player personnel director, "why don't you look at his last game against Alabama? That was the best competition in the country.
"What I see here almost parallels those quarterbacks from the Steve Spurrier era [like Wuerffel] who won a lot of games and trophies and all that, but being in that offense helped them. Yeah, he completes a lot of passes, but there often is nobody near his receivers, and he has all the time in the world to throw."
Maybe. But I've seen pro quarterbacks miss wide-open receivers. I've seen pro quarterbacks with time to throw who can't pick out open receivers, too. Tebow might not be the most polished quarterback in this draft, but he is one of the most successful. That should count for something. Unfortunately for Tebow, it may not count enough.
"I feel for the guy," said Billick, "because the next three to four months he's going to get [shredded]. Scouts are going to tear him apart."
They already have.
"When you're looking for a quarterback," said one of them, "you want someone who gets his team out of the huddle and into the end zone. You want someone who knows how to win. And that's Tim Tebow."
But that's not enough.